Assassin's Creed 3 Preview -- Soaking Up the Bloody Sights and Sounds of the FrontierBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Jun 04, 2012
Ubisoft’s strategy for revealing information about Assassin’s Creed 3 is a little like Chinese water torture: Drips of information at randomly spaced intervals that make fans of the series insane. Drip: Some screenshot leaks. Drip. We heard about the setting. Drip: We met the main character. Drip. get a look at a little gameplay video.
Today’s drop of water: A pre-E3 video preview. It is one of four videos Ubisoft is showing off at E3 2012, and while it’s not epic in length, it’s impressive in scope and awesomeness.
“We’re going to show you lots of big cities. Boston and New York have both been re-created,” Ubisoft creative director Alex Hutchinson says to the collection of gaming journalists gathered for the presentation. “But today we’re going to show you a section of the frontier, a recreation of New England in the 18th Century, and we’re going to do it in winter.”
All of Assassin’s Creed 3’s locations have winter and summer settings, but I’m glad the gameplay video Ubisoft is showing off is set during the colder months--a silent assassin stalking his human prey in an ice covered landscape is just badass. The scene opens on Connor, half Native American and half European killer, striding through a bucolic winter glade, looking very stylish with the trademark 18th century hoodie obscuring his face.
The snow covered trees he walks among are more than just set dressing though. They’re climbable, with Connor leaping and alighting among the branches gracefully. No buildings here, but it looks like the frontier will provide enough rocks and trees to keep any Assassin-parkour fan happy until he makes it to colonial Boston.
The climbing mechanism looks perfectly smooth and intuitive as you’d expect from an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s the kind of gameplay that only comes from a lot of work on the part of the developers. Assassin’s Creed 3’s army of creators have clearly spent thousands of hours meticulously working out how to make you feel like you’re effortlessly walking and climbing through a lonely New England wood.
This is Assassin’s Creed, though, so the reverie doesn’t last long. Danger comes in the form of a pack of wild wolves. Connor is quickly surrounded by the snarling beasts, who circle menacingly. The wolves, like all the game’s animals, have species-specific AI. They attack like wolves, not like men.
Advanced group-AI or not, the pack is no match for Connor, who has a pistol attached to one hand and the signature hidden blade attached to another. He makes quick work of the wolves, but does it with style--the “snick” of the hidden blade will give you chills. Weapons can be connected to specific buttons on your controller, giving you greater control. Weapons represent a full range of early tech, from tomahawks and bows of the Native Americans to European steel in the form of bayoneted British muskets.
Leaving the bloody, skinned corpses of the wolves behind him, Connor walks into a small settlement, and it’s here that a bit of the structure of the game is revealed. Unlike past Assassin’s Creed games, AC3 will feature side-quests that can be completed at any time, in this case, it’s hunting to bring meat to struggling frontiersmen. Side quests can be completed at any point during the game, giving AC3 a more open-world feel than previous games.
Open-world gameplay and side missions are cool and all, but in our demo, Connor has a job to do. There’s a British fort in the wilderness with a Templar inside who needs killin’, and Connor is just the guy for the job.
The fort is a short walk away, and it’s packed with armed Redcoats, heavily fortified and daunting. Ubisoft told us that there are basically three ways to complete this mission. You can go in Rambo style, guns blazing and attack the front gates; you can stealthily climb around the outside of the barricades; or you can hide (delightfully) in a hay cart and wait to be towed in. To best show off the game, though, Ubisoft picked option number two: A trip around the outskirts of the fort, over a rough cliff wall, and in a small entrance in back.
To gain entrance to the lightly protected backside of the fort, Connor climbs around a cliff protruding over the ocean. It’s amazing how organic the rocky outcropping looks--totally gone are the symmetrical handholds of Florence. Instead, Conor rock-climbs over uneven stone, forcing you to carefully choose a path like an actual rock climber might.
Once Connor sneaks into the fort, we get a look at the NPC. It feels like a real place, with tons of soldiers making rounds and otherwise seeming to live their lives, oblivious to the one-man-death-squad about to descend. Connor spots an ammo dump, barrels full of black powder. Black powder is an important commodity in 18th Century warfare, and it also blows up real good. The powder kegs explode when shot, so Connor breaks the stealth by shooting a barrel and causing a huge explosion to rip through the camp. The guards are thrown into chaos, with soldiers running around, screaming, scanning the walls, and trying to spot the intruder.
In all the commotion, the Templar is easily located, and Connor brings him down with a graceful and badass assassination…And so ends part one of Ubisoft’s E3 2012 video presentation of Assassin’s Creed 3, another welcomed but maddening drip of water in the reveal of a game everyone just wants to play right. Freaking. Now.
In keeping with the Chinese Water torture theme, Assassin’s Creed 3’s creative director mentions what might be in part two of the video. “I can’t say anything specific, but if you know your American history, you know the Revolutionary War was not just won on land,” Hutchinson says.